I am going to be very honest, I have never liked Mr. Bingley. I know many many people disagree with me and are probably shaking their heads as they read this. A lot of readers think Mr. Bingley is a sweet gentleman. I do not disagree with that. But I have always found Mr. Bingley’s character very disappointing and I honestly believe that if Jane was a stronger character, she would never have agreed to marry him after the way he behaved.
Now, let’s talk about Mr. Bingley, shall we? The reason most people like Mr. Bingley is because our dear Miss Austen has a way of playing with our minds. Consider the way she introduces Mr. Bingley to the readers:
“Mr. Bingley was good-looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners.”
This is the first time we read a description of Mr. Bingley and Jane Austen paints such a positive picture of the guy, the reader has no choice but to like him. But she doesn’t stop there. She goes on to paint such a dark picture of Mr. Darcy in the same paragraph.
“his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud; to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend.”
And then Austen deals us the final blow as she compares the behaviour of Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy at the assembly. There is such a clear contrast between the two gentlemen, one being described as all kindness and well-mannered and the other the portrait of all that is displeasing. By drawing our attention to the great contrast between the two gentlemen’s behaviour, she makes us believe that Mr. Bingley has all the excellent qualities his friend lacks.
“Mr. Bingley had soon made himself acquainted with all the principal people in the room; he was lively and unreserved, danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield. Such amiable qualities must speak for themselves. What a contrast between him and his friend! Mr. Darcy danced only once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of his own party. His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again.”
It is no surprise that most readers, if not all, form a very positive first impression of Mr. Bingley and a very negative one of Mr. Darcy by the end of the assembly chapter. But then, Miss Austen, the clever storyteller that she is, starts to show us a different side of both characters, albeit in a manner that requires us to read between the lines. When Elizabeth and Jane are staying at Netherfield, we get to hear Mr. Bingley’s and Mr. Darcy’s opinion on different matters. Their conversation about an accomplished woman is very telling of the two gentlemen’s characters. Mr. Bingley argues that all young women are accomplished. Now, I don’t think he really believes that. I think he merely says things to impress others, or simply to make conversation. But Mr. Darcy is not like that. He expresses his opinion and doesn’t really care what others may think of him. HE DOES NOT PERFORM TO STRANGERS.
I really think Mr. Darcy has the true measure of his friend. And he tells Elizabeth (and us the readers) what type of man Bingley is. But Elizabeth doesn’t listen (and neither do we). Do we pay attention to Mr. Darcy’s words about his friend’s character? Consider the following conversation.
“Your humility, Mr. Bingley,” said Elizabeth, “must disarm reproof.”
“Nothing is more deceitful,” said Darcy, “than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.”
“And which of the two do you call my little recent piece of modesty?”
“The indirect boast; for you are really proud of your defects in writing, because you consider them as proceeding from a rapidity of thought and carelessness of execution, which, if not estimable, you think at least highly interesting. The power of doing anything with quickness is always prized much by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance. When you told Mrs. Bennet this morning that if you ever resolved upon quitting Netherfield you should be gone in five minutes, you meant it to be a sort of panegyric, of compliment to yourself—and yet what is there so very laudable in a precipitance which must leave very necessary business undone, and can be of no real advantage to yourself or anyone else?”
“Nay,” cried Bingley, “this is too much, to remember at night all the foolish things that were said in the morning. And yet, upon my honour, I believe what I said of myself to be true, and I believe it at this moment. At least, therefore, I did not assume the character of needless precipitance merely to show off before the ladies.”
“I dare say you believed it; but I am by no means convinced that you would be gone with such celerity. Your conduct would be quite as dependent on chance as that of any man I know; and if, as you were mounting your horse, a friend were to say, ‘Bingley, you had better stay till next week,’ you would probably do it, you would probably not go—and at another word, might stay a month.”
“You have only proved by this,” cried Elizabeth, “that Mr. Bingley did not do justice to his own disposition. You have shown him off now much more than he did himself.”
“I am exceedingly gratified,” said Bingley, “by your converting what my friend says into a compliment on the sweetness of my temper. But I am afraid you are giving it a turn which that gentleman did by no means intend; for he would certainly think better of me, if under such a circumstance I were to give a flat denial, and ride off as fast as I could.”
“Would Mr. Darcy then consider the rashness of your original intentions as atoned for by your obstinacy in adhering to it?”
“Upon my word, I cannot exactly explain the matter; Darcy must speak for himself.”
“You expect me to account for opinions which you choose to call mine, but which I have never acknowledged. Allowing the case, however, to stand according to your representation, you must remember, Miss Bennet, that the friend who is supposed to desire his return to the house, and the delay of his plan, has merely desired it, asked it without offering one argument in favour of its propriety.”
“To yield readily—easily—to the persuasion of a friend is no merit with you.”
“To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understanding of either.”
The last line is probably one of my most beloved lines in all of Austen’s novels. Here, Darcy tells Elizabeth (and us) that Bingley is easily persuaded. He doesn’t think Bingley has bad intentions, but he knows his friend to be inconsistent. Was this not a warning? If Elizabeth was not so prejudiced against Darcy, would she have paid attention to the gentleman’s correct portrayal of his friend’s character? Would that not have put Jane on her guard and perhaps saved her from a lot of disappointment and heartache? We will never know, because Miss Austen, in her unique and brilliant style, commanded the story to unfold in this way.
As for Jane, as I mentioned earlier, I really believe she should not have accepted the gentleman so readily and easily after his return to the neighbourhood. If she was a stronger character and if her situation in life was not as it was, she would have refused him, or at least made it a little harder for the gentleman to regain her trust, respect and love.
In my first novel, To Save and Protect, I address the issue of Mr. Bingley’s behaviour and Jane’s process of forgiveness. Below is an excerpt for the novel where Elizabeth and Jane discuss Mr. Bingley’s inconstancy and Jane’s doubts about forgiving him.
Contrary to Elizabeth’s assumptions and hopes, Mr. Bingley’s visit had not made Jane happy. In fact, she had become more withdrawn than she had been since the gentleman’s removal from Hertfordshire. Elizabeth’s heart broke for Jane as she watched her beautiful sister’s eyes fill with unshed tears throughout dinner. Despite her valiant efforts to hide her sadness, it was plain for all to see how much Jane was suffering. Elizabeth decided to go to her sister’s room after dinner in an effort to draw her out of such quiet melancholy. She told Jane about Mr. Darcy’s disastrous first proposal, his subsequent apology for separating his friend from Jane, and the facts she had learned about Mr. Wickham from Colonel Fitzwilliam.
“Poor Mr. Darcy!” Jane uttered with great feeling. “How unhappy he must have felt when you refused his hand. I am sure it must have been quite a shock to him.”
“Do you blame me for rejecting his first proposal, Jane?” Elizabeth asked.
“No, Lizzy,” Jane replied, shaking her head thoughtfully. “You did what you thought was right based on your understanding of the gentleman. But I cannot help but feel sympathy for him. He must have suffered greatly, having loved you so deeply and knowing that you did not return his sentiments.”
Elizabeth could not help see the similarity between Jane’s feelings and Mr. Darcy’s. Could I have hurt him as badly as Mr. Bingley has done Jane? she wondered with no little embarrassment. Elizabeth was not surprised her sister sympathized with the man who had been the means of her own unhappiness. Indeed, she would have been surprised if Jane had not shown such generosity of spirit. She was, after all, the sweetest, kindest person Elizabeth had ever known.
“That you can forgive Mr. Darcy after he has caused you so much pain speaks of your loving nature, Jane,” Elizabeth said with feeling.
“I do not blame Mr. Darcy, Lizzy,” Jane said resolutely. “He only did what any honorable man would do for his friend. He did not know the nature of my feelings.”
“Dearest,” Elizabeth spoke tentatively, “do you not think that Mr. Bingley deserves your generosity and forgiveness as much as his friend does?”
Jane looked up at Elizabeth’s words. Fresh tears gathered in her eyes as she contemplated her sister’s question. “Oh, Lizzy,” Jane whispered.
Elizabeth moved closer and wrapped her sister in a loving embrace, her own tears joining those of Jane’s. “My darling Jane,” she whispered, “what you must have suffered!”
“I had no right to have any expectations,” Jane said as she slowly pulled away and tried to wipe her tears. “I know that now.”
“No, Jane,” Elizabeth said. “Do not say that. Mr. Bingley loved you. He loves you still. It has always been plain for everyone to see.”
“How can I know that, Lizzy? How can I ever reconcile with the fact that his feelings were so fickle that he could be so easily persuaded to abandon me? How am I to ever trust him?”
“He was persuaded that you did not love him.” Elizabeth argued.
“Do you think anyone will ever be able to persuade Mr. Darcy you do not love him?” Jane asked.
Elizabeth drew in a deep breath and shook her head. “Oh, Jane! I am afraid what Mr. Bingley lacks in self-assurance, Mr. Darcy has in abundance. When he first proposed to me, he was so confident and certain I would return his feelings he never doubted my acceptance of his proposal.”
“That may be true.” Jane conceded. “But Lizzy, you told Mr. Darcy you did not care for him. You refused his proposal. And even then, he continued to care for you. He did not abandon you. He was constant and steadfast in his love for you, even when he thought he could never have you.”
Elizabeth held her sister’s hand in hers and smiled. “My sweet, Jane,” she said gently. “I confess Mr. Darcy has proven his love for me in ways that have left me in no doubt of his constancy.”
“Do you not realize what a blessing that is, Lizzy?” Jane asked passionately. “Do you not see how fortunate you are to have such assurance for life? To know that he will never leave? That his love will never waver?”
“My darling,” Elizabeth said, her heart breaking for her sister again, “I know how fortunate I am to have such confidence in my partner. But Jane, Mr. Darcy has my assurances as well.”
Jane looked up at Elizabeth’s words, her eyes full of doubt. Elizabeth smiled.
“Mr. Darcy was willing to give me up, despite his love for me, when he thought I did not love him. I had to reassure him of my love before his second proposal. Now, I know he will never be persuaded to give me up because he knows how much I love him.” Elizabeth explained. “Mr. Bingley did not know. He was not confident in your love. And he is not as self-assured as Mr. Darcy. So, when he was persuaded by the people closest to him you did not care for him, he had no choice but to leave.”
“He did have a choice, Lizzy.” Jane argued. “He could have asked. He could have fought for my affection.”
“That is true.” Elizabeth admitted. “He was wrong. He was a fool for giving you up. But, are we not all fools in love? We all make mistakes, Jane. I know I have made my share of mistakes regarding Mr. Darcy and so has he. But we forgave each other.”
“Oh, Lizzy!” Jane exclaimed desperately. “I do not know what I should do.”
“Do you love him, still?” Elizabeth asked hesitantly.
“I do,” Jane said, her eyes pained and tired. “I do not think I will ever stop loving him.”
“Then trust in your love,” Elizabeth said. “Let that be your guide.”
“I do not understand, Lizzy!” Jane said.
“I know Mr. Bingley loves you, Jane,” Elizabeth said. “I am not suggesting you should make any decisions now. Give your love time to grow. If it is a strong love, and I am persuaded that it is, it will endure and become even stronger.”
“And if it is not?” Jane asked apprehensively.
“If it is not, you will know once and for all, and you will be a stronger person for it.”